Death Valley Dunes

June 06, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

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A fierce wind whips sand dunes into shape.

A few years ago California’s Death Valley National Park received lots of rare spring rain during March and April. Almost overnight the desert became a blaze of wildflower color, highly uncharacteristic of the name of the park. You probably saw this on the news. I did too. At breakfast one morning this rare event became the topic of conversation and when we had finished our food and wandered our separate ways I decided I had to go to California and make photographs.

I finished the day gathering and packing my provisions and headed out early the next morning. Although I was planning on camping I knew it was going to be a really long day’s drive to Death Valley since Las Vegas is a 12 hour drive from Crested Butte and the park is even further. I had never been to Death Valley so I planned on getting a hotel upon arrival. Adventure number 1. There are a few hotels north of Las Vegas just outside the park. As it turns out, not much sleeping happens at these places. But I digress.

Early the next morning I headed into the park. Even the drive is an adventure but all went well. Upon my arrival below sea level I was greeted with a temperature of 105 and a pretty steady 30-50 mile per hour wind. There were no wildflowers! Tent camping was just not going to happen. Photographs were not going to happen either. I was too far away from civilization to get anything like a weather forecast so I spent most of the day inside the park visitor’s center learning about the park and doing research. Not a bad day’s work after all. I decided to try another hotel but had a similar experience.

Day two was a huge improvement in both temperature and lack of wind. The damage, however, had been done and my reason for driving halfway across the country (not really but have you driven across Nevada?) was now headed northeast in a hurry. There were a few bits of wildflowers left but nothing to photograph. I did shoot a little “stock” of tourists on sand and looking at stuff but nothing worthwhile. I was able to scope out the park and find a campsite and make plans for the next day.

Day three was really nice because I drove to Scotty’s Castle which is a marvelous oasis in the desert and followed that up with a torturous drive to “The Racetrack” where stones are known to move across the dried lake bed by themselves. Scientists really don’t know why this happens but most have come to the conclusion that when it rains the mud gets really slick and makes it easy for the wind to move the rocks. Sounds reasonable. The stones leave tracks in the mud and all of the tracks are going in different directions. Even stones 10 feet apart leave different trails. I think that rules out the wind, at least for me. I’m digressing again.

I forgot to mention that there were sand dunes a short distance from where I camped. The first day I saw them (day two) the light was terrible at midday and since they face west the light was no good at sunset either. When I past them on day three a photographer in a red shirt was standing on top of the highest dune for most of the morning. I have pictures. Again, more stock images but not what I drove across Nevada for.

Day four and my last day before heading home…and it’s windy again. I’m ready to hit the road and fairly frustrated with my productivity but decide to give the dunes one last visit. The light was beautiful. The wind was really annoying. I’ve put off  showing this image because the “technician” inside me insists on the subjects of my photographs being “sharp”. The dunes are not sharp. I know the camera wasn’t moving because it was on a tripod. I eventually figured out that my subject was moving. The wind is constantly rearranging the dunes. So, I fired the “technician” and printed the photograph. I hope you like it. It’s growing on me! Please let me know your thoughts.

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